Theatre reviews: And The Birds Did Sing | An Accident / A Life

In Accident/A Life, Marc Brew has created a show that offers a clear-eyed recognition of tragedy but also builds to a conclusion full of hope, writes Joyce McMillan

Accident/A Life, Tramway, Glasgow ****

And The Birds Did Sing, Tron Theatre, Glasgow ****

A huge crowd packed the Tramway on Friday evening for the UK premier of Marc Brew’s Accident/A Life; and given this world-leading artist’s ability to place himself at the cutting edge of 21st century dance and physical theatre, the mood of simmering excitement – and the huge ovation at the end of the show – this was perhaps hardly surprising.

Born in Australia in the late 1970s, Brew began to dance as a child, and never stopped until the day, in 1997, when he and some colleagues were involved in a horrific road accident while touring South Africa. His friends died, and Brew survived with life-altering injuries; but somehow, over time, he found the courage and creativity to continue his life as a dancer, exploring the possibilities of movement available to his changed body, and eventually creating internationally acclaimed shows, including Now I Am, and Remember When.

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In Accident/A Life, Brew – now based in Scotland – works for the first time with renowned Flemish-Moroccan choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui on a show which explicitly returns to that life-changing moment and its aftermath; and it is a visually thrilling and sobering 80 minutes of theatre, as well as a fascinating exploration of the new world of movement Brew entered after he became what the world calls “disabled”.

On stage, there is a small, bashed-up car, flanked by two huge screens; there are also two other performers, masked and dressed in black, who act as assistants and camera operators, creating live images which form part of the powerful screen element of the production, a pulsating collage of colour, light, film footage, still photographs, abstract video sequences and projected text co-ordinated by designer Pepijn van Looy and artist Maxime Guislain.

Brew speaks as he moves, sometimes in his wheelchair, sometimes moving alone across the floor; but in Cherkaoui’s impressive production, the movement never seems merely illustrative of the text, which tells the story of the crash and Brew’s slow recovery. Instead, the movement seems to develop a dynamism and momentum of its own, pointing ways towards the new life, however difficult, that Brew will begin to live. And with the whole show driven by an unobtrusively brilliant musical score and soundscape by Alexandre de Castaing, this moving and remarkable new work – jointly commissioned by Tramway and Sadlers’ Wells, and co-produced or supported by a host of major companies and funding bodies across Europe and Australia – builds to a conclusion full of hope, but also of complexity, humility, and a clear-eyed recognition of a tragedy, in all its aspects.

And The Birds Did Sing PIC: Maria FalconerAnd The Birds Did Sing PIC: Maria Falconer
And The Birds Did Sing PIC: Maria Falconer

First seen in Edinburgh 2019, Scottish company Curious Seed’s 40-minute show And The Birds Did Sing is similarly preoccupied with life and death, and – particularly – with the human impulse to see birds as messengers between the two worlds. Like Accident/A Life, And The Birds Did Sing combines spoken text with live solo performance; and both are created and performed with tremendous feeling by Curious Seed’s Christine Devaney, on a stage dominated, in Yvonne Buskie’s design, by a giant tattered wing like a curtain between worlds, and tiny scattered balls of crushed paper which become like wounded birds in Devaney’s hands.

Here, though, the text – while vivid, and often beautiful – often barely seems to add to the eloquence of the show’s imagery, and of Devaney’s beautifully articulated, increasingly bird-like movements, as she tells the story of “a girl who knew a woman who listened to the birds”, and of the woman that girl became; and Luke Sutherland’s brilliantly pensive score wraps the whole performance in music that is as strong and gentle as the girl herself, gradually coming to know both the reality of death, and the power of love.

Accident/A Life, run completed. And The Birds Did Sing is on tour until 6 April, with dates in Cumbernauld, Aberdeen, Findhorn, Stirling and St Andrews, see